It's almost midnight. It's dark. It's cold. I'm hungry. I'm tired. Nobody will know. Just sit down for a minute. Better yet, lay down. Who cares? Dude... NOBODY cares. Nobody cares if you finish in 20 hours or 30 hours. Fact is, nobody really cares if you finish at all. They are all asleep and will totally understand if you DNF. Hey... I got an idea. When you get to the next aid station just start limping. And talking in circles. Hopefully you'll catch a volunteer that can't see through your lies and tell you that you should quit. Then you have an excuse. Do you really need another buckle? No. What you need is to find a warm campfire, a chair, a cold beer and take these stupid shoes off your feet. Does it really freaking matter? Can't we just walk the rest of the way?
If you think that every one of these thoughts hasn't gone through my head at some point during a 100 miler then you are very wrong. Every single time I have questioned my sanity, my heart, my talent, my dreams, my desire, my physical ability and my mental toughness. There have been many times when I questioned myself on shorter distances too. The one thing that always pushes me to keep stepping, to keep moving forward, to find the finish line is the idea that I have already done the hardest part. Training. Nothing is tougher than training. Waking up at 1, 2 or 3 a.m. to fit a run in before heading off to work for 10, 12 or 14 hours is not easy. Running the last 20 miles of a 100 is a cake walk in comparison.
100 plus mile weeks, 300 mile months, holding a full time job, a part time job and attending my kids basketball games, school functions, helping with homework and discussing the days events is where it gets hard. Keeping focused can be tough at times but that is what makes the focus on race day easy. My mantra during training is simply, "Eye on the Prize". Take your eye off the prize for a second and it becomes a distant and seemingly impossible goal. Mental toughness doesn't all of a sudden appear on race day. It does, however, become a natural reaction to whatever obstacles come your way. Rain, snow, ice, extreme heat or race directors that try to skimp and leave you scrounging for sun-baked pbj's and undrinkable water can be overcome IF you have the right attitude.
So many times in the past I would train to finish the distance. To complete the distance. Sure I had goals but at the top was ALWAYS to just finish. I have learned that by training to go BEYOND the distance, I can always dig a little deeper and push just a little harder when things get tough. The "wall" still exists but it's not the death nail that it once was. I have found myself looking forward to hitting the wall because I know that once it finally shows up, I WILL be able to push through and things will get easy again. No fear of dying. No fear of failure. No fear of not reaching my goals. Secure in the knowledge that I have already conquered worse during training calms me down and allows the relentless forward progress to continue. It allows me to question myself and run through the scenarios of quitting without any realistic expectation that I would actually follow through.
Eye on the Prize. How bad do you want it? Do you still want it as bad now as you did yesterday? These are the thoughts that always win out during the tough times. It is always the same. I want it bad. I want it more now than yesterday. Yes, my eye is on the prize. Failure is not an option. Keep going unless you are dead. This is the stuff I learn through the training period. Nobody WANTS to get up at the butt crack of dawn to run 2, 3, 4 or 5 hours. Nobody WANTS to go to work everyday on 3 or 4 hours sleep. Nobody WANTS to run 4 hours, go to their kid's basketball tournament and then run another 5 hours after it's over. Only a crackhead would WANT to throw in 40 miles on a treadmill. These are the things we do because we WANT to succeed on race day more.
Mental toughness is 90% of my strategy. The other 10% has to do with beer and Oreos so I won't bore you with the details. My "natural" running talent is very small and I realize that if I want to compete then I must do what others aren't willing to do. That is what drives me to the next goal, the next medal, the next trophy or the next buckle. I will never be an elite runner. I will remain average at best. I know this. Thankfully the VOICES don't really care what I think I know and they keep pushing me to new limits. When in doubt - push a little harder. You will be so worried about dying that you will forget about the doubt and things WILL get better.
This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........